48 hours in Toowoomba
It might be Australia’s second largest inland city, but for most weekend-goers in search of new adventures, a 48-hour jaunt to Toowoomba ain’t the highest priority on the list.
Well, I’m here to tell you it should be, because not only is it easily accessible from our capital city (hit the road west of Brisbane and you’ll be there in under two hours), but this country charmer boasts the perfect mix of leisure and great outdoors with a foodie scene that’s surprisingly out of this world.
Intrigued? Here’s how to make the most out of a weekend in Toowoomba.
PM: More like Fri-yay
Nothing says TGIF like one (or three) drinks to welcome the weekend, and there’s no better place to be on a Friday night than The Office, with live music kicking off from 4pm.
First order of business: cocktails. While their espresso martini is a crowd favourite, these guys are known for mixing it up, creating new and devilishly good flavours each week (hello pomegranate martini and pink lemonade). Our suggestion? Ask what’s the latest and greatest, and drink up.
Next, get yo’ self something from their bar menu to curb your buzz (this is really just an excuse so you can go to town on their nachos and wings) and let the Friday feels do their thing.
8AM: A baker’s dozen of pastries, please
There’s no time for sleeping in this morning, because if you do, you could very well miss out on the scrumptious delights of The Bakers Duck, which, if you ask any local, would be a crying shame.
Open for retail only on Saturday mornings from 7:30am to 1pm (or earlier if they sell out), this bakery/patisserie is hitting the brekkie spot with their sought-after sweet and savoury pastries.
You might be a little confused when you end up in a semi-industrial street lined with sheds. But as you will soon find out, it’s not hard to spot their modest signage when you see the lineup of people stretching out to the driveway.
While some of the sweeter stuff changes depending on what fruits are in season, their go-tos such as almond and chocolate croissants or Moroccan lamb or pork, fennel and apple sausage rolls can always be found, if you get there in time.
But if you’re still crawling out of bed… stick to the CBD and make your way to The Finch.
With a simple menu packing humble favourites like the big breakfast with eggs, bacon, mushrooms and halloumi, sweet corn and zucchini fritters… AND house baked beans, avocado, salsa and a crispy tortilla, it’s not surprising that the cafe had to recently expand their digs to keep up with the increasing demand.
The expansion also saw the addition of a beautiful finch mural on the back wall by First Coat Festival street artist, Noke.
10AM: Street stalking
In Toowoomba you can access most of the good stuff by foot, all you’ve got to do is pick your path.
Option 1: Street art trail
Street art is a massive thing here, and thanks to the annual First Coat Festival which started in 2014, Toowoomba is now home to one of the largest outdoor galleries in the country, with over 55 colourful murals splashed about the city’s alleys, streets, and laneways.
Download the First Coat app and design your own visual adventure through the CBD (make sure you’ve got a full battery because you won’t be able to resist Insta-snapping your journey).
On your way, pop into the artist-run gallery No Comply and Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery to check out their latest exhibitions. Entry is free!
Option 2: Op shop hop
Toowoomba is a mecca for vintage finds, with op shops, antique and second-hand stores in full flourish.
While you can always rely on good ol’ Vinnies and Salvos for a bargain buy, the Lifeline Emporium on Ruthven St is a must if funky threads are your target, with a vintage wardrobe section down the back with band tees, fur coats and kimonos. Upstairs, enter a book lover’s utopia, with shelf after shelf of literary goodness from biographies and poetry to general fiction and true stories.
Another worthy mention is The Clothesline behind Hannas (down the alley on Mann St). A high-end version of an op shop, you’ll find all items are by popular Australian and international designers, and in near-new condition. We’re talking everything from Tony Bianco boots, blue jean Levi’s and leather Fossil satchels. Just take our money already, would you?
Check out the map below for some local-guided favourites. (Granted, I may have missed a few – there’s just so many! If you have any more suggestions, let us know in the comments below.)
Tip: Finish your trawl up at Lancaster’s Antique Centre on Railway St, because lunch is just around the corner.
12PM: Fuel up at Firefly
By now you’re probably well and truly hangry, so head to Firefly Cafe, where, before you even sit down, the on-point interior styling charms the pants off you (but please, do keep them on).
Housed in a converted garage, the space is adorned with drop lights, fresh blooms, leafy greens and beautiful artworks, including another mural by street artist Noke.
With a menu that changes seasonally, expect quality and freshness in every bite, with most produce sourced locally and dishes made from scratch on site. And lucky us, we made it just in time to sample their winter mix.
The handmade pappardelle pasta with roast pumpkin, goats cheese and roast peppers was my pick, and let me tell you, it made the cut as one of the best pastas I’ve ever had. But don’t tell my Nonna.
Don’t forget to try one of their barrel sodas – a sweet mix of flavoured cane sugar juice added to soda and topped with fresh fruit.
Afternoon: Explore some more
She may technically be a city, but Toowoomba is a country girl at heart, meaning there’s always opportunities for nature lovers to get their fill of the outdoors.
If you want to take it easy… wander the gardens
They don’t call it the garden city for nothing, with plenty of options in and around the city centre for those who like a good stroll:
- Queens Park – One massive patch of greenery in the CBD with four ovals, woodlands, an off-dog leash area, two playgrounds, and a botanic garden. It’s great if you’re after a long(ish) and leisurely stroll or somewhere to kick a footy around.
- Laurel Bank Park – Small and beautiful, this parkland is perfect if you’ve got little ones in tow, with a children’s playground, picnic areas, and croquet lawns (special shoutout to the Thomas the Tank Engine Garden Train). Renowned for its stunning floral displays and manicured gardens, the park is most well known for its annual display during the Carnival of Flowers, which changes in theme each year.
- Lake Annand Park – Bring some bread if you plan on making a trip to this local beauty because eager little duckies will be waiting for you at the man-made lake set among the lush green lawns here.
- Picnic Point Parklands – Sitting high on the crest of the Great Diving Range, the 160-acre parklands and lookout point is one of the most visited spots in Toowoomba, with epic panoramic views over Main Range and Lockyer Valley.
- Japanese Gardens – This is one of my favourite places in Toowoomba, and each time I set foot here I immediately feel a calm wash over me as I explore the rushing water streams and mini-forests of this traditionally designed Japanese stroll garden. Head there just before sunset – the songbirds and soft lights of the afternoon add an almost magical touch to the experience.
If you like a challenge…. Tabletop Mountain
Views don’t get much better than those from Tabletop Mountain. The famous natural formation set in the Toowoomba Range is a popular walk/scramble/rock climb for locals and visitors alike, but be warned, a moderate level of fitness and guts* is needed.
*Now’s probably a good time to tell you that as much as I like a good mountain climb, I am quite the chicken when it comes to heights. So my opinions of the circuit may be slightly skewed. However, I fully believe everyone should try to conquer this bad boy because it’s absolutely worth it for the panoramic views (and sense of accomplishment).
Follow South Street until it turns into Tabletop Drive, where the bitumen eventually changes to gravel as you wind your way down to the base of the mountain.
The first part of the circuit is known as the camel’s hump, meaning you’ve got to up and down this first mount before reaching the actual mountain itself. From the get-go, it’s a pretty steep incline of dirt and rock, so make sure you’ve got sturdy footwear with some grip.
As you go higher and higher, the smaller rocks start turning into boulders for the remainder of the hump, but rest assured the track has been really well laid out, making it super easy to manoeuvre yourself.
One mount down, one mountain to go. Keep following the track of rocks and loose gravel as you make your way up. Although from afar it looks like fellow adventurers are scaling the side of the mountain, the track is fairly sturdy and straightforward before reaching the summit, where a steep rock climb awaits.
I’ll admit this was the point where I turned to my partner and said “Hell no”, backing away and insisting between tears that we make our way back. But a couple of lovely locals (who had already scaled the beast) insisted it was a lot easier than it looked, telling me to concentrate on the wall and the many, many grooves which make it easy to work your hands and feet up.
They were right, and waiting for me at the next point, they guided me up then to the left of the rock wall where a short track to the summit awaits.
The plateau of the mountain is nothing short of amazing, with 360-views of the range and open plains as far as the eye can see. Grassy headland covers the mountain top, but you’ll find a clear cut circuit that’ll take you on a round-trip of the flat surface.
Tip: Take your time on the way back down, because the loose gravel can be a bit tricky.
7PM: Dinner and a show
Before your weekend rendezvous begins, have a squiz at what’s coming up at the Empire Theatre. Art-deco glam meets world-class performances at this heritage-listed beauty, which also holds the title of Australia’s largest regional performing arts complex. If you time it right, you might be able to catch a Parisian cabaret or comedy night during your visit.
For dinner, we’re lookin’ at you Muller Bros, the newly opened Brazilian BBQ and rooftop bar down Bell St lane (best to make a reservation beforehand as they get pretty busy).
Meat’s the word here, and if you’re going to do it right, settle yourself in for their all-you-can-eat churrasco skewers, where for two glorious hours carvers will float back and forth from your table to cut and serve you slow-cooked meats hot off skewers from their wood-fired meat smoker.
If you haven’t slipped into a food coma by the time you’re done, head upstairs for a drink under the fairy lights of the open-air rooftop bar.
9AM: Laneway brekky dates
Ground Up Espresso Bar certainly puts the bright in ‘bright and early’, tucked down the colourful laneway of Searles Walk.
The cosy cafe is a gushing favourite by locals and justly so, serving up quality coffee and simple, delicious eats. But it ain’t just the edible goodness that makes this place so great, it’s the whole atmosphere from the friendly staff and funky decor right down to the hilarious cup-size and dish names (Notorious P.I.G or Hakuna Frittata, anyone?).
If you can nab a spot inside, kudos to you, but if not, the outdoor dining set-up is just as good.
10am: To the museum
She may be slight in size, but the Cobb & Co. Museum packs a punch when it comes to Toowoomba history, housing the National Carriage Collection of horse-drawn vehicles and a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions giving you an insight into the cultural and natural past of the region.
While you can browse the museum at your leisure, I’d highly suggest taking part in one of two daily guided tours at 10:30am or 2:30pm. It’s a great way to get the full gist of each exhibition, and you’ll learn some awesome facts along the way, like why a car’s glove compartment is named so.
(Spoiler alert: Back in the old days, gloves were more than just a fashion statement, they were necessary for the harsh conditions of driving a coach long distances. So it made sense to create a special compartment built specifically to store your gloves in. Behold, the glove box of the car!)
I’ll be honest, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this museum. Being small-ish in size, you can still be thorough and immerse yourself completely in a different time and era without having spent your entire day here.
12PM: Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off on a (mini) road trip we go
If adventure is calling… Crows Nest National Park
When the sun’s a shinin’ (or the temps a risin’), pack a picnic and hit the road to Crows Nest National Park, 50-minutes north of Toowoomba.
This natural treasure trove beholds freshwater swimming holes and easy hikes through the park’s eucalypt forest and stringy-bark trees (and if you take the longest track to Koonin Lookout, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the gorge, known as the Valley of Diamonds, stretching out to the distant rolling hills around Ravensbourne).
Keep an eye out for the cute-as-a-button rock wallabies playing hide and seek as you explore.
On your way back to Toowoomba, you might just make it in time for a pit-stop at The Chocolate Cottage in Highfields (they shut shop at 5pm on Sundays) to pick up some handmade choccies and bottle of Crows Nest Soft Drinks, one of the oldest surviving small town manufacturers of soft drinks and syrup flavourings in the country.
If a long and lazy Sunday sounds like your jam… Preston Peak Wines
Is there really any better combination in this life than wine and cheese?
Just 20-minutes south of Toowoomba you’ll nosh on the region’s best at Preston Peak Wines. With a philosophy of “happy vine, happy wine”, the locally owned and operated boutique winery prides itself on their award-winning vinos, even opting to hand-harvest their grapes to ensure a high standard of quality.
And of course, no wine tasting would be complete without a cheese platter, so get comfy at the cellar door bar as their friendly staff take you on a journey of creation through their finest drops.
7PM: Stay classy, Toowoomba
So, your time in T-Bar is coming to an end [insert sad face here], but a night of fine-dining at Zev’s Bistro is guaranteed to have you leaving on a high note.
Classy casual is the tone here, with simple, understated decor complementing the top-notch, ever-changing cuisine that looks almost too good to eat.
Your best bet is to ask their advice on what entrees work best for each main for the ultimate flavour combinations. But if you can’t decide on what to order, go all out and eat the whole menu. Literally. The degustation-style offering (which can be shared comfortably between two people) releases you of the decision-making fuss, giving you a sample of every a la carte option from start to finish.
Finish off with a glass of house champagne and that’s Toowoomba done and dusted in style.